“It’s part of the local heritage, and when we closed down I was getting phone calls from Australia, America and France, from clients whose families have been dealing with us for over 100 years,” says Kevin Parry, the newly reinstated part-time manager of the recently reopened Lowe & Sons jewellery store in Chester. “When they originally heard the store was going to close they couldn’t believe it.”
The store, which is known for trading its unique Chester silverware and antique jewellery, came to the end of its lease in March of this year, after the previous owner, Waltons of Chester, said an increase in business costs meant it was the “right time for them to close the store”. Managing director Richard Hogben said at the time: “Ultimately, as the lease has reached its end, it is the right decision for us to cease trading at this time”. He added that it was a “difficult decision to close for good”.
It was originally founded in 1707, but in 1804 the local council wanted to knock down the shops there in order to widen the road, which is when it moved into its current building. “It’s been in Chester for around 248 years now and it really does have an amazing history,” says Parry. “The people who have walked through that door in the 41 years I have been there had been equally incredible.”
The iconic jewellery store was saved from closure after its lease was bought by local competitor Powell’s Fine Jewellery. Leonard Prescott, store manager at Powell’s, says the group “was saddened to learn of its departure from the Chester Rows”, and adds that it has been “a pillar of the jewellery and silverware industry for almost 250 years which drew many clients from across the world to the city”. Will Powell, who handles operations at Powell’s, says: “We finally signed the lease late on in September”, and since then the group has “worked tirelessly to have the shop ready for the busy Christmas period”.
Powell’s was originally opened by Dave and Joan Powell, who started the business with only £1,000 in the late 1960s. Their first shop was located in the old bank buildings on Water Street in the seaside town Rhyl, North Wales. In the 1970s they moved from Rhyl to open a shop in Prestatyn a seaside town just down the coast. They then had the help of their son, Greg Powell, who started as apprentice on the bench back in the 1970s, and came into the family business when he was 16. Greg and his son Will eventually purchased its current Chester business in 2017.
Prescott notes that as “a family of jewellers ourselves”, they didn’t want to see the “beautiful Victorian showroom lost to both the industry and the public in general”. The group was able to recruit several members of the original team, including Parry, who managed the store for many years before its closure and is considered “something of a local celebrity in the antique and silverware scene”.
Prescott adds: “Working tirelessly we have been striving to save this unique piece of Chester’s history and bring it back to the high standards and traditions that made Lowe’s a destination for so many customers over its long and illustrious lifetime. With Parry’s help and input we have been searching far and wide to bring together a selection of fine jewellery and silverware for the showroom.”
Parry says tracking down its new stock “wasn’t easy”, and adds: “In our line of business, which is mainly secondhand and antique goods, you have to get out there and find the stock. We were a bit worried at the end if we had enough pieces to fill the store again. But it all came in right at the end thanks to clients and dealers who have looked after us for years.”
WHY THE LEASE WAS BOUGHT
Will Powell says: “You only have to visit Lowe & Sons to see why we wanted to take the lease on. My father and I had always admired the shop, it has a certain feel to it, it’s difficult to explain. I suppose it’s a combination of the original Victorian decor along with the long history of the Lowe family business.”
He originally joined in 2002 after working for a financial marketing company in Scotland. “Knowing I was missing home my father Greg had told me I would always have job within the business,” he says. “We were about to open our first shop in Chester and I was intrigued to learn the family trade”. He adds that him and his father often said that they’d “love to be able to have a similar shop to Lowe & Sons, never thinking that the lease would become available”.
Will says Powell’s taking over of the lease is also made “even more special” by the fact that founder Dave Powell worked in Lowes as an apprentice watchmaker in the late 1940s. “I would like to think he would be immensely proud of what we have achieved,” he adds.
The store has also benefited from a full refurbishment – “nothing had been done for a long time” – a result of the previous owners not being “as interested in our business as they were in their own”. The whole store has been “French polished and buffed to bring it all back to life”. “The refurb has been fantastic,” says Parry, “and Powell’s have spent a lot of money and a lot of time and effort. It looks better than it ever has.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF ANTIQUE JEWELLERY
Will Powell says it is important to promote and hold onto antique jewellery stores as vintage jewellery “exudes quality”, and the skill that was involved in making it is “rarely seen today with most modern-day pieces being cast and mass produced”. He adds that most antique pieces of jewellery were completely bespoke, and a lot of his customers think it’s “the excitement of owning something that you may never see anywhere else and being completely unique”.
“Antiques appeal to a lot of people because of ethical or environmental reasons,” he says, “Antique gems were mined before the ongoing issues of today and when mining was much more environmentally friendly. With all the emphasis of supporting the high street in the press at present, in buying a piece of pre-owned antique jewellery that’s exactly what you’ll be doing – supporting local and family businesses, the backbone of the British economy.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Parry says the future will hold challenges, “especially considering the current state of the high street”. Greg agrees, adding the marketplace is “continuously changing due to the internet”. “It’s a big challenge for this in a very traditional trade like this and you tend to just be happy going all on with things, but then you suddenly realise you are way behind the times,” he adds. Greg says it’s also to do with the challenge of supplying what the “ever-scrupulous public want”. “They are very critical of stock, so you have to produce antiques in a new condition which isn’t easy, especially finding the right stock at the right price.”
However, Parry notes that specialist businesses, like Lowe & Sons, “will always attract the right people”. “A business has to develop its own identity, and it has to offer something different to everybody else, it’s the only way business can thrive in the future,” he says. “I know that in the next few years our jewellery store will become a very specialised brand, and hopefully maybe one day will expand outside of Chester. I am sure with the input of Powell’s the business is going to succeed.”